Black Ships & Samurai Curriculum
by Lynn Parisi
: Table of Contents

Lesson 01:
Introduction to Reading the Visual Images in Black Ships & Samurai
 
Three short guided lessons introduce students to the idea of “reading” a visual print as a historical text—in this case, as historical documents that capture aspects and attitudes about the first U.S.-Japanese encounters in 1853 and 1854. 

Lesson 02:
The American-Japanese Encounter: Multiple Perspectives in Art

In this activity, students consider how cross-cultural encounters, or any event, are variously experienced. This differential experience is one level of “multiple perspective.” At another level, how the encounter or event is recorded—the medium used (words, photographs, woodblocks, lithographs, paintings, drawings) and how the artist’s own styles and choices affect that rendering—are an important second level of “multiple perspectives.” Students consider all of these dimensions as they select parallel pieces of American and Japanese artwork from within the Essay sections of the Black Ships & Samurai unit and analyze the styles of artwork and their messages. They then apply their knowledge by selecting a pair of images to represent the information in this unit through another delivery system, such as an exhibit book.

Lesson 03:
The Black Ships: Multiple Perspectives in Constructing Historical Narrative

The second section of the Essay, “Black Ships,” opens with side-by-side depictions of a warship in Commodore Matthew Perry’s fleet. The image on the left is an American oil painting, the image on the right a Japanese woodblock print impression. 

Each piece of art tells a multi-layered “story” of the American mission to Japan. The way these images are presented within the unit—their placement—can tell yet another story. In this activity, students will consider two layers in this process of constructing a particular narrative of the first encounter between Japan and the United States. The first layer that they will consider is that of the artists and their work. Students will analyze individual visuals of the “Black Ships,” considering the story each work presents to the viewer. Next, they will consider a second layer of the narrative construction—the selection and placement of source material by the author. Students analyze the opening frame of the Black Ships & SamuraiEssay, in which the two images of Perry’s ship are juxtaposed, to consider specific messages that the author may have wanted to convey about the initial encounter between Japan and the United States in 1853. 

Lesson 04:
Capturing Culture through the Visual Record

This lesson introduces students to a framework for analyzing and understanding the concept of culture. Students will use this framework to consider what people encountering a new culture for the first time may tend to note about that culture. They will look at the specific case study of the Black Ship Scroll, a 30-foot-long painting in which Japanese artists created a visual record of American culture during their initial encounter with Perry’s mission to Japan in 1853 and 1854.

Lesson 05:
Comparing Narratives

The National Standards for History note that “reading historical narratives requires that students analyze the assumptions—stated and unstated—from which the narrative was constructed and assess the strength of the evidence presented. It requires that students consider the significance of what the author included as well what (he or she) chose to omit. Also, it requires that students examine the interpretative nature of history, comparing, for example, alternative historical narratives written by historians who have given different weight to the political, economic, social, and/or technological causes of events and who have developed competing interpretations of the significance of those events.” This lesson uses the Black Ships & Samurai unit as a vehicle for helping students to understand and develop the skills necessary for analyzing history as a constructed story or narrative.

Lesson 06:
Cultural Encounters: Case Study through Sport

This activity uses a high-interest topic—sumo—as an initial vehicle for considering the cross-cultural perspectives of Americans and Japanese who came into contact in an official capacity during the Perry expedition’s stay in Japan. Students first compare how a form of Japanese sport and entertainment—the demonstration of Japanese sumo wrestling—was experienced and recorded through both written accounts and artistic renderings. In so doing, they analyze the power of written and visual records in conveying a sense of the experience to audiences and consider the differences in perception and emphasis by Japanese and American recorders of the event. Students then examine the visual record left by Japanese artists to find evidence of American customs that captured similar surprise and interest.

Lesson 07:
Site Quest: Advising the Shogun on a Response to America

A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by students in constructing a response to a given question is drawn from multiple Web sources. In this activity, students use the Black Ships & Samurai unit to collect data and inform their analysis and response to a historical question.

In this site quest, students take the role of a Tokugawa clan daimyo who will advise the Tokugawa shogunate in developing a response to the American treaty ultimatum in 1853. Students examine and analyze the resources available in the Black Ships & Samurai Image Gallery—paying special attention to primary source data presented through visual records made at the time. They then create a proposal for shogunal response to the American treaty demands. Students work in teams, with each member of the team investigating a specific aspect of the situation with which Japan is confronted.

Lesson 08:
Site Quest: Creating a Guide to the “Foreigners”

A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by students in constructing a response to a given question is drawn from multiple Web sources. In this activity, students use the Black Ships & Samurai unit to collect data and inform their analysis and response to a historical question.

In this site quest, students work in groups taking the roles of either Americans or Japanese who are charged with creating a Cross-Cultural Training Guide to help educate their countrymen and women to the customs and habits of the other culture.